Increasing Youth Allowance will make education access fairer

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Experts say Youth Allowance must rise to better support financially stressed higher education students dealing with cost-of-living and study pressures.
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The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is calling on the Federal Government to act on the recommendation in its Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s report and substantially increase Youth Allowance in the budget.

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs says, “raising the rate of Youth Allowance would greatly assist low SES students studying higher education”.

“This, along with changes to HECs indexation and paid placements for education, nursing and social work students are important equity reforms that should be prioritised in the Budget.”

The Federal Government has said the way to meet the rapid growth in jobs requiring university qualifications in the coming decades is to enrol more young people from outer suburbs and the regions in the tertiary system – and to ensure they succeed.

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“The Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s report shows these people are being left behind, and the social and economic cost of inaction will only grow the longer the government waits,” says Professor Brungs.

Life below the poverty line

Recent UNSW research undertaken as part of a long-term collaboration with ACOSS found that, among people in households below the poverty line, poverty was deepest for those reliant on Youth Allowance.

“When students are among the poorest members of our society the odds are stacked against their success,” says Professor Brungs.

As part of UNSW’s strategic priority of advancing societal impact, the university has committed to an access rate of 25 per cent by 2027 for commencing domestic students from underrepresented schools and low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. However, we know access without continued support, including financial support, is a risk to success at university.

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Greater access for disadvantaged students

UNSW supports the recommendations within the Universities Accord to increase access to underrepresented and disadvantaged students and urges the government to act on the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s advice and substantially increase Youth Allowance so students can be better supported to undertake tertiary study.

The Committee found lifting JobSeeker and related payments to 90 per cent of the pension rate ($72 per day) would improve their adequacy and help people afford the essentials.

“Raising Youth Allowance and other working age payments is a rare issue that unites the business community, social service advocacy groups, and economists,” says Professor Verity Firth, Vice President of Societal Impact, Equity and Engagement.

“They all recognise that the current rate is incompatible with a basic standard of living, let alone any notion of equality of opportunity.”

Financial pressures create multiple barriers

Professor Firth told EducationDaily that “financially disadvantaged students are grappling with additional barriers to their success at university and when their financial stress accumulates over time it adds to the ‘normal’ stress of university”.

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“We are seeing some students so heavily committed to paid work – in order to cover basic costs of living and cost of university – that their study time is cannibalised and their over-all engagement with university life is impacted,” she says.

“These employment commitments in turn impact their ability to form meaningful connections with peers, tutors, academics and to engage with relevant support services and extracurricular activities.”

The impact of financial pressures students face can also have a direct effect on university retention rates, Professor Firth told EducationDaily.

“Students are unable to commit adequate time to academic study which impacts their academic performance. Students sometimes face having to make a choice to drop out of uni,” she says.

Professor Firth believes it’s just one of many ways the added pressure of money worries can affect tertiary students and their connection to their university education.

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“Students are delaying moving out of the family home, which entails a lack of independence but also for some can mean long commutes to and from UNSW – for example, some students from Greater Western Sydney are travelling two hours one-way from Campbelltown to Kensington, a total of four hours travel a day,” she told EducationDaily.

“They can be the lucky ones – others unable to remain at home or who do not have access to family resources are couch surfing and effectively homeless.”

To help counter the issue for students at UNSW, Professor Firth says “we have increasing numbers of students accessing additional services such as emergency financial support, loans and food banks”.

“Some students are now excluded from what you might consider are some the formative experiences of uni, such as informal coffee catch-ups and participating in clubs and societies. Things like this have become luxuries not everyone can afford to participate in.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live